Alicia Keys
Photo: Getty

Beyond her 15 Grammys and multi-platinum records, there’s a reason Alicia Keys was chosen to be a coach on The Voice. That warm, wise tone she uses to speak to her mentees? It’s not an act.

During our phone call, hours before the show’s finale on Tuesday, Keys revealed she was feeling “extremely confident” about the turnout. Later that night, her finalist Chris Blue won. Keys won’t be returning to the show, but she’s got plenty of things to focus on, from writing new music (her “best yet”), to being a mom to two boys and her committed role as an intersectional activist. Last year, she inspired women to be body positive when she stopped wearing makeup; but her activism is more than skin-deep. This is a woman who spoke at the Women’s March, made a short film about the refugee crisis and is consistently vocal about the Black Lives Matter movement.

On June 3, she’ll perform at the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic—and although the native New Yorker admits she doesn’t play the sport (“I’ve ridden a horse before and it’s never gotten above a very slow walk,” she joked), she’s proud that the event partnered with her Keep a Child Alive organization, which supports children and families affected by HIV/AIDS. “I always feel excited when I can do something that’s about what I believe in,” Keys said.

Before the event, Keys opened up to about her upcoming music, what she’s learned from going makeup-free and what she’s up to this summer.

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Alicia Keys
Photo: Paola Kudacki

Keys loves spending summer in New York…

“Gosh, I love to swim. I’m a big beach person. I just love the outdoors. I love New York summers, they’re my favorite. I just think they’re so beautiful. There’s this kind of thing in the air. It does get super hot, humid and sticky and nasty. Then, it turns seven or eight o’clock and then this beautiful New York cool breeze comes in. It’s still warm enough to be in your T-shirt. You don’t have to worry about having a jacket. The city is a whole different place. Everywhere, it’s alive. Everybody is loud and noisy and reckless and it just gets even more colorful.”

…and reveals her ultimate summer playlist:

“I’m definitely rocking the Drake album, Kehlani’s album, I’m loving H.E.R., she’s super dope. I’m loving Solange. I’m just feeling all the good vibes.”

Her last episode of The Voice was really special:

“My artist Chris Blue is just incredible. He has taken the show and really shown what a real artist he is and how incredible he is to be able to handle the pressure and energy and all the crazy mix and just shine every time. He has really shown who he is, and he has evolved and come to a place where all of us would hope to get to, on a platform like this. I’m just taking it. I’m in gratitude, I’m excited.”

Though she played coach for two seasons, she’s learned a lot, too:

“What I just continue to remember is that we all have the ability for greatness and all we have to do is believe it, and want it, and know that we deserve it. And then, we can do it. Anything. Really, just that simple and just that hard. So if there’s anything that I’ve been reminded of, and just talked about and shared, it’s success.”

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Keys says she’s “definitely” working on new music:

“It’s super sick. The best music I’ve made yet, which fortunately is going to happen every time I make something. That’s what I’m claiming. It’s actually almost at least more than halfway done already, so that’s going incredibly well and of course, my passions for activism and the world around us remains stronger than ever, just as a student of what’s going on and how to continue to be a positive part of the changing of the things.”

She’ll intertwine activism with songwriting, much like she did on her 2016 album, Here:

“On my album Here, that’s the first time that I’ve really understood how I could put all the things that were happening in the world and in my life and in our lives as just human beings into one body that was just so powerful and really had a perspective. That was an opening for me and I think that naturally, there is just so much to talk about. I don’t see me getting quiet anytime soon.”

“What I’m learning is that there is so much to unlearn.”

It’s been almost a year since she wrote that powerful essay about going makeup-free, inspiring a #NoMakeup revolution:

“It was actually amazing. I wasn’t making a statement. I was only honoring what I was feeling and what I was learning, and so much of what I’m learning is that there is so much to unlearn. There’s so much we were taught or that we see throughout our lives and we take them on and we decide that’s what makes us feel good—that’s what constitutes the definition of beauty. But it’s all very phony and very fake. What I mean is each person has their own truth and we all get to find out what that is for ourselves. Because I’m just a woman who’s also finding her own truth, I’ve just been expressing that the best I can.

“It’s been awesome and I really learned a lot about myself and I’ve also learned that we don’t have to have any constraints. We really don’t. We don’t have to just be anything or do anything. We get to be who we are in every moment in our truth. I’ve been learning that and I’ve been exercising that and trying that on for size. And it fits good. I’m just continuing to figure that out and explore it in the many different ways it presents itself, and just learn to be comfortable in my own skin.”

Her son Egypt, 6, proved his prodigious musical talent when he co-produced a track for Kendrick Lamar. (Yes, really.) But Keys isn’t pressuring him to venture into music:

“I think you do definitely see how things are in your DNA. That we’ve seen in our kids. It comes out of them, or they find a passion for it, each one in different ways and it’s really cool to see. It’s definitely not a thing where we’re all like, ‘Do this, because we did it. Do it, because I did it.’ You just find that there’s a passion there, there’s a love there or there’s an instinct or an intuition or whatever. It’s pretty cool to see them develop on their own right. Hopefully we can nurture it, and make it better and help them to stay focused about it and learn that you also have to put work into it.”

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Alicia Keys
Photo: Getty

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

From: Harper’s BAZAAR US